There’s a wealth of material in post-marxist and poststructuralist political philosophy to be found at the After 1968 web site, which documents a series of seminars and lectures held in Maastricht over the last few years. You can find texts by Agamben, Deleuze, Badiou, Ranciere, Baudrillard, Negri, Derrida, Nancy, and others there, though it will take some scrolling, clicking, and poking around to locate them.

One of the more interesting finds there is a link to the translated notes from a lecture by Deleuze on Spinoza’s concept of affect. It’s arguably this concept and its transmission through Deleuze, together with the more recent upsurge of research in the neuroscience of affect and emotion (by people like Antonio Damasio), that underlies the fairly dramatic upwelling of interest in all things ‘affective’ in recent social and cultural theory.

The site also provides links to Deleuze’s last published piece of writing, the brief, lyrical “Immanence: A Life…”, and to Giorgio Agamben’s insightful, meditative dissection of it (which, thankfully, is only slightly marred by Agamben’s own obsessions with sovereignty, “bare life”, biopolitics, etc.). Agamben spends three whole pages analyzing the punctuation – colon, ellipsis – of the title alone, and though that may sound overindulgent, it’s well worth reading.

Deleuze’s notion of immanence changed over the years and, as Christian Kerslake argues, left questions and inconsistencies in its wake. But it remains very evocative and, in this final version at least, sounds to me completely resonant with the (Madhyamika) Buddhist ontology I’ve been exploring.

Deleuze writes:

“Consciousness becomes a fact only when a subject is produced at the same time as its object, both being outside the field and appearing as ‘transcendents’.”

Subjects and objects, in other words, are produced within a relational field and take on the appearance of transcendent objects, that is, real things. But ‘beneath’ this ongoing production of subjects and objects (this makes me think of J. J. Gibson’s ecological psychology, in which bodies equipped with certain effectivities, or capacities for action, engage with the affordances, or capacities for being-taken-up-by-that-subject, of the things in their environments), there is the immanence that Deleuze calls “a life”:

A life is everywhere, in all the moments that traverse this or that living subject and that measure lived objects — immanent life carrying events or singularities that effect nothing but their own actualization in subjects and objects. This undefined life does not itself have moments, however close to one another they might be, but only inter-times [entre-temps], between-moments [entre-moments]. It neither follows nor succeeds, but rather presents the immensity of empty time, where one sees the event that is to come and that has already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.” [I've mixed together pieces of two different translations here, so don't quote these.]

This “empty time,” I would say, is that silent, open, spacious awareness/emptiness that Dzogchen literature refers to as ‘rigpa’, which is there in the background of all the subjectivating/objectivating events that are stitched together into the concepts and experiences of identity, selfhood, and objectivity that make up (what we think of as) our lives and our worlds. Dzogchen and other forms of mindfulness practice give us tools for learning to experience how those objects arise, and ultimately for learning to rest in the space of the immanent life that precedes them. (The online materials provided on Shinzen Young’s web site make an excellent starting point for learning about mindfulness practice in its many forms.)

As Agamben puts it, “The vertigo of immanence is that it describes the infinite movement of the self-constitution and self-manifestation of Being: Being as pasearse” – a Spanish term he defines as the verb “to walk-oneself” in the sense of “to take a walk” — “an action in which it is impossible to distinguish the agent from the patient (who walks what?) and in which the grammatical categories of active and passive, subject and object, transitive and intransitive therefore lose their meaning.” While Agamben’s reference to “Being” to my mind seems unnecessary, its definition here is essentially the same as what Buddhist cognitive biologist Francesco Varela, in describing cognition, referred to as “laying down a path in walking.”

This immediacy of immanent life is expressed in infants, who, Deleuze writes, “all resemble each other and have no individuality: but they have singularities, a smile, a gesture, a grimace, events that are not subjective characters. The smallest infants are traversed by an immanence that is pure potentiality [pure puissance], even beatitude through suffering and weaknesses.”

Agamben, quoting Deleuze, continues: “Life is ‘composed of virtuality’; it is pure potentiality that coincides with Being, as in Spinoza, and potentiality, insofar as it ‘backs nothing’ and insofar as it is desire’s self-constitution as desiring, is immediately blessed. All nourishment, all letting be is blessed and rejoices in itself.”

Ah, that old Spinozian lyricism that we find in Hardt & Negri and many others of the post-marxist left…

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  1. after-thought: living immanently
  2. Spinoza’s parakeets, sparrows, & roses
  3. the politics of objects & relations
  4. immanence, transcendence, religion, imagination, politics
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